The world won't let us off

The world just won't let us stop learning. A 71-year-old friend winced today as he quizzed me about email addresses. He says in 11 weeks time he is going to bite the bullet and buy his first computer. And learn to work it.

Meanwhile I was struggling over two articles in the Scientific American. Both concern coding messages in completely different ways, and both propose to solve the internet traffic problems.

In the June issue, Breaking Network Logjams:

In 2000 investigators proposed a seemingly crazy idea for limiting logjams in communications networks. Called network coding, this potentially revolutionary approach replaces routers, which simply relay messages at intersections, with network coders, which send evidence about the incoming messages instead of the messages themselves.

In the July issue, Broadband Room Service by Light:

Wireless delivery of multimedia Internet services to multiple users indoors may best be accomplished using light beams rather than radio waves.

Yes, I have read both articles and I guess I will recognise the concepts next time I stumble across them. In a million years I wouldn't say I understand, any more than my friend understands about email addresses. We are not defeated, oh no no no. But we do know what we don't know...yet.

Not like Elsie. She 'reads' books to her teddy bear during her afternoon 'sleep'. Currently she favours The Perfect Pop-up Punctuation Book. I'd hidden it away, thinking punctuation too advanced a topic for a 4-year-old, even if the pictures are fun. (The pictures in the Scientific American are also fun.)But Elsie adores it. As far as she's concerned, it's not a book about apostrophes, brackets and commas: it's the book about the piggies and the big bad wolf.

The Perfect Pop-up Punctuation Book

That's innocent ignorance, not the anxious ignorance of adults. Wait a minute: perhaps she's right!

Punctuation, network coding and optical wireless: they're all coding information so that it eventually gets through to its destination, a neural network in a brain somewhere between and beyond 4-71 years of age.

One thing I know: email didn't go away just because my friend ignored it for 10 years. And network coding and optical wireless technology won't go away either. Furthermore, they'll influence the way we write and the way we read, in mysterious and unpredictable ways.



Rachel McAlpine
Rachel McAlpine


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